COVID herd immunity – vaccine denial may make that impossible

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The only way to COVID-19 herd immunity is going to be via vaccines, but people throughout the world, especially in the USA, are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. The anti-vaccine world is doing everything it can to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about these vaccines, despite our efforts to counter the disinformation campaign.

Let’s talk about COVID-19 herd immunity and how vaccines are important. And why we probably can’t hit herd immunity, a terrible consequence of the anti-vaccine rhetoric and lies.

COVID-19 herd immunity

In case you are new to this world of vaccine terminology, herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious diseases that can occur when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, by vaccines or infection, which reduces the risk of infection by members of the community who lack that immunity.

Although we don’t have a solid estimate for herd immunity levels for COVID-19, it is estimated to be between 60 and 75%, somewhat easy numbers to reach even with the anti-vaccine disinformation campaign.

Unfortunately, experts recently estimated that herd immunity for COVID-19 has to be closer to 80%. And recent polling has shown up to 30-40% of Americans will refuse to get the vaccine, which means herd immunity may not be attainable. Furthermore, none of the Emergency Use Authorizations for the COVID-19 vaccines are for individuals under 16 or 18, which means 25% of the population isn’t eligible for vaccination.

Without herd immunity, there are a number of consequences. People who cannot get vaccinated or are immunocompromised will always be at risk of contracting the disease. The virus will continue to be transmitted, which will lead to more dangerous mutations or variants. And there are local outbreaks of COVID-19 across the world that could bring the disease back to the USA and many other countries where we don’t reach herd immunity.

A large group of COVID-19 deniers and anti-vaxxers want to create herd immunity “naturally” instead of using vaccines – that is essentially genocide since so many people will die or suffer long-term consequences.

So, if you do the math, we’re not going to get close to herd immunity unless there is some sea change in vaccine refusal and pediatric indications are authorized for the vaccines.

COVID-19 herd immunity

What’s going on with herd immunity

At least in the USA, COVID-19 vaccine refusal has been drawn along political lines, after the Republican Party and Donald Trump spent much of the last year essentially denying the dangers of this pandemic. As many as 35% of Republican men said in a recent Kaiser poll that they would refuse the vaccine

As vaccinations have increased, Republican governors have ended most remaining pandemic restrictions, some of them doing so while simultaneously denouncing “vaccine passports” that might help prevent superspreader events.

However, not all anti-vaccine sentiment is along political lines. Although the Venn diagram of social media shows a huge overlap between COVID-19 vaccine denial and the right-wing crackpots, there are vaccine deniers on the left. You know the type, just avoid GMOs, fluoride, and vaccines but the organic blueberry-kale smoothie with almond milk along with huge doses of vitamin D will stop the disease.

And also having contracted the virus in 2020 may not help herd immunity that much. Those individuals may not have immunity to the variants that are hitting the world right now. In fact, the CDC states:

Yes, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19. That’s because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible—although rare—that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again. Learn more about why getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected.

Nevertheless, without that 80% herd immunity barrier, the disease will persist. And remember 80% is an average, so there are going to be communities that are far below that number and will be susceptible to the disease.

And remember, if this disease persists it can mutate into a variant that could hit those of us who are vaccinated. That scares me. And it scares public health experts who know a lot more about this than I do.

How to increase vaccine uptake?

Well, there’s a question that we’ve all been asking for years. None of us have the secret answer. But people who are opposed to this vaccine are increasing the risks of this pandemic lasting a lot longer than it should.

I don’t trust what is going on with vaccinations, so I continue to wear a mask and social distance despite being fully vaccinated. Too many people are COVID-19 deniers. I would recommend that any of you who have functioning neurons continue to wear your masks and be wary of people who don’t.

Otherwise, outside of mandating the vaccine, I don’t see any way to reach 80% herd immunity in this country. If you look at the list of vaccine uptake worldwide, no country, except possibly Israel and Bhutan, are even within spitting distance of 80%

Oh, and take a look at Japan – 3%, and they’re hosting the Olympics this summer. I can’t wait for that super spreader event, although most athletes will be vaccinated.

I know we say this all of the time, but vaccines save lives. This has nothing to do with your rights as a citizen, it has nothing to do with conspiracies, it has nothing to do with anything but saving lives.

Get the vaccine for yourself, your family, and for the world. Please.


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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!